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"Mozart," "Murderer" are reminders of TV's continuing embarrassment of riches

Last weekend, I finally got to binge watch the first two seasons of the Golden Globe-winning Amazon comedy series “Mozart in the Jungle.”

It is adorable. That also could be the word that describes series leads Lola Kirke as Haley, an oboist who also is the assistant to the eccentric and super talented conductor Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bemal) brought in to save the New York Symphony Orchestra and all of its super talented, needy and backstabbing characters.

I’d say “bravo, bravo” a little louder if the episodes weren’t a little inconsistent. I did love the second season finale.

I also was riveted while binge watching the controversial Netflix series “Making a Murderer” last week. I now understand all the controversy over the verdicts of Steven Avery and his mentally-challenged nephew. I'll be watching NBC's "Dateline" this Friday when it revisits the case.

I bring up my late viewing of these buzzworthy programs to remind readers that even TV critics can’t instantly watch all the good stuff on television these days.

The first few days at the cable portion of the Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena, Calif.  earlier this month provided another reminder of how difficult it can be to watch all the good things on television.

Consider the list of actors who were on display in just two days to discuss upcoming cable and streaming projects: Anthony Hopkins, Ian McKellen, Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston, Samantha Morton, Dennis Haysbert and James Purefoy.

During 12 hours of press conferences with most of them over two days, critics were treated to a variety of interesting thoughts on acting, diplomacy and the coincidence of fiction and fact merging.

Best Interview: By far, the most fascinating interview of the tour featured Hopkins, who co-stars with Ian McKellen in an upcoming STARZ movie, “The Dresser.” It is the kind of production you’d expect to see on PBS. It is based on the play about actors staging a production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” during World War II.

Would you believe Anthony Hopkins was once insecure about being an actor and performing Shakespeare? He said he left the theater 50 years ago and “skedaddled“ to America to start his illustrious movie career.

“I felt, quite honestly, I couldn’t do it,” said Hopkins of theater. “I think it may be a streak in most actors … of deep insecurity and fear, anxiety, thinking I’m not up to it. And I’ve worked with some great actors, and I’ve often said, 'I am not up to it'… So I thought, enough. Enough. I couldn’t do it, and I lost my nerve. And I should have gone back, I suppose, but I thought, enough. I can’t do this. There was something in my nature, something made me restless, so I’m coming out here out here to do something I didn’t know what. And I had a pretty bad history in the theater. I left the national theater as a dark cloud. I said, ‘To hell with you all.’ That was my nature then. It’s not like it today. It’s mellowed a lot. But I mean, it moved me out, and I found another life."

Hopkins added that his attitude changed when he read "The Dresser" and was told McKellen was going to play the dresser to his character Sir, and that Sir Richard Eyre was directing it.

"I thought, I know this," said Hopkins. "I know now how to do it... I have no qualms. I know how to do this, and I know how to do Lear now, after all these years."

That attitude was reconfirmed when they met in the studio to prepare to film it.

" I thought, 'I’m home,'" said Hopkins. "It gave me the courage of a lifetime, because I’ve been seeking that courage for a long time. I’ve been hoping that I hadn’t lost it, that I hadn’t lost the technique or I hadn’t lost whatever it was. And I thought I can do this, and then, Ian very kindly on the stage ... I was having to do Lear in front of an audience, and I was nervous, and he said, ‘Are you okay, Sir?’ ‘I am really nervous. I haven’t been on the stage for a long time.’ And he addressed the audience and said, ‘My friend, Anthony Hopkins, is a little nervous, so give him a nice round of applause.’”

“The Dresser” intrigued him.

“I was intrigued by what particular nature it is that makes actors want to act. I’ve always been fascinated by that,” said Hopkins. “Why do actors want to act? Why do they want to do Shakespeare? Why do they night after night after night go on stage and repeat the same performances over and over and over? And this play, 'The Dresser,’ more or less answers that, that you have to go half mad to survive that kind of life. And the man I played, Sir, is a man who is obsessed with Shakespeare and obsessed with success, obsessed with the art and obsessed with Lear... it touched something in me. I thought I know what this means. I know as an outsider, my doing 'The Dresser' was a painless revisit to a world that I had known 50 years about something I wasn’t comfortable with. And now I can understand why Sir and so many actors, great actors love Shakespeare. I wish I had that.”

Hopkins said acting has given him a wonderful life, but acknowledged under questioning that he considered quitting.

“It’s not a difficult life, but it’s hazardous, as everything is,” said Hopkins, “Did I ever want to quit? Yes, several times. And every day I think about quitting, but they come up and offer me a job, and I say, ‘Okay,’  because I’m an actor."

He then told a story about being asked years ago at a party why he didn't come back to the theater.

"And I said, ‘I don’t know. I feel guilty, because I should. It’s better than working in a car factory, but I don’t know. I’m not quite sure.’ And he said, ‘You know why you feel guilty?’ I said, ‘no.’ He said, ‘Because all actors want to be loved.’ If you go on stage and there are two empty seats, 'Where are they? Now, remember Laurence Olivier going on in 'Othello' and he meant it as a joke, but I think he said it there were two empty seats on the front and he says, ‘They’re not here. Where are they?’ And he pretended to be pretty (ticked) off. But I think that’s in all actors. We want to be loved. We want more, more, more.”

I wanted to hear more, much more from Hopkins because every word sounded even more important because of his accent.

The Coincidence: A critic noted that the WGN series that premiered Tuesday, “The Outsiders,” “is about a group of heavily-armed rebels occupying land in the face of government efforts to remove them” and wondered if the producers thought the recent Oregon occupation of a national wildlife refuge will boost the show’s rating.

“It will in that cabin,” cracked producer Peter Tolan. The joke was made well before the tragic events of this week.

But writer Peter Mattei explained the differences between “Outsiders” and current events.

“I think the idea of people trying to hold on to what’s theirs and protecting their family from any kind of an outside threat is topical all the time,” said Mattei. “It was certainly what I was thinking about when I first started to write this thing. There’s some obviously really big differences between the Farrell Clan (in the series) and the people in Oregon. I actually don’t really know anything about it. But, I mean, the Farrells are holding on to land that they’ve been living on for over 200 years, so it’s basically their land as opposed to them trying to take someone else’s land. And they don’t really have a huge beef with the government. "

The Diplomat: Hollander, who stars with Laurie and Hiddleston, in the upcoming AMC miniseries “The Night Manager,” was reluctant to compare his new role to that of Lord Cutler Beckett in a couple of “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies: “I can’t think of really two characters that, in a way, in terms of playing them, have less in common in than the one in ‘Pirates’ was," said Hollander. "I’m stopping now, because the last time I did an interview and I talked about 'Pirates,' I then got an unfortunate email, which I don’t want another of those. So this one, I don’t think they’re very similar, because this character ... was more satisfactorily complex and multidimensional."

“Oh, you’re getting the email,” cracked Laurie.

In a way, that proved Hopkins' point that acting can be hazardous.

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